By Christina Morris, L.Ac.
It is during this time of year that many people are affected by a seasonal depression, the days are shorter and nightfall comes earlier. The daylight has disappeared before we get home from work. SAD or seasonal affective disorder, affects more than 10 million Americans. Seventy-five percent of those who suffer from SAD are women. SAD generally starts in October or November and lasts until March or April.
The main symptom of SAD is depression, but may also include fatigue, loss of energy, irritability, headaches, decreased sex drive, increased sleep, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, loss of energy and the craving of junk food. The exact cause of SAD is unknown to medical doctors, although stress, heredity, hormones, and decreased amounts of sunlight are all thought to be contributing factors.
Autumn is a time to pull inward. Nature contracts and moves its energy inside to prepare for the hibernation of winter. The leaves fall onto the earth, seeds dry, and the sap of trees flow into the roots. Winter is the end of the seasons, a time for rest and storage of energy. Winter time is yin time in traditional Chinese medical theory. Yin represents inactivity and darkness. Just as the season changes to more yin, so do we. Generally we seem to want to sleep a little more, eat more comforting and warming foods, we feel a little bit more lazy and unwilling to leave our homes when it is cold outside. These actions or in-actions are yin in theory. Some people happen to be even more yin and sink into a more inactive state, feeling very low and depressed, unable to rise back to their “normal” self. This kind of depression is due to an internal imbalance. Western doctors may believe it to be a chemical imbalance in the brain but Chinese medical theory believes it is an energetic imbalance within the organ systems. Energetic disharmonies can create chemical, mental, emotional, and physical imbalances.
Acupuncture and herbology can be effective forms of treatment for SAD. Acupuncture and herbs can regulate the energy in the body to help it restore its natural balance. By restoring balance the body will return to a healthy state and the symptoms associated with SAD will soon disappear. Preventative measures such as a healthy diet, exercise and stress reduction are also very important in keeping the body balanced. Remember to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day, and avoid sugar, caffeine and smoking. Receiving adequate sunlight has helped many people with SAD. Try to schedule a time each day to enjoy the outdoors. If possible, try to take a winter vacation to somewhere warm and sunny. Other therapies may be helpful such as talking to a psychotherapist or a counselor. Some people choose western drug therapies to help them through their depression. If you feel like you’re stuck in a seasonal slump, take some kind of action. There are many different ways you can help yourself or someone you know who is affected by SAD. So don’t let this season bring you down.